There are no small people, just small talk. Science has explained why we feel the compulsion to do it, but I say it’s time we ban it altogether. For our kids.
I stood there, huddling under the awning of a wind-blown public transport terminus, stranded with a trio of strangers, linked by the solitary fact that we were recent refugees of a bus that no longer existed. We were here, but for how long, we knew not. As the cigarettes were fished from pockets, the first of nervous glances of peepers were exchanged and jaws loosened, I thought Mother-of-God, here it comes…
“Geez, this weather is a bit off”, someone spoke aimlessly to anyone.
“Yeah”, came the response. “This bus doesn’t normally do this, does it?”
“Nah”, someone spoke, “bit like this weather”.
Chortle, ha ha, well played etc. Why this torturous anecdote I’ve tried to zap out of my memory? Well, since that evening, I’ve disliked small-talk, in all it’s meaningless, pissantery form. I’ve long been confused by it as a concept. As the tableau in the bus stop taught me, people with rich, varied lives will tend to not divulge much, preferring to pontificate in pointless pedantry about the puerile weather patterns that pulverise the pantaloons of the pedestrians’ poor position they purport themselves in? (Steady on with the alliteration, Hugo Weaving – Ed.)
I realise trust is a big issue; why would you tell a stranger about your life? What if he laughs at me? What if he doesn’t laugh? Is my life not good enough? Why do we no longer have the yarn over the picket fence with our neighbours, which our parents treasured?
My grandmother is a great example of this. She lived next to a woman called Dot. Growing up, we knew everything about Dot. Her fears, the names of her kids, where she kept the key to the garage, why her first marriage broke up. My grandfather knew nothing about Dot. Why? Because he engaged in small-talk.
Also on The Big Smoke
When Dot passed on, and my grandparents got new neighbours, they knew nothing about them. Why? Well because that old subject reared it’s head, the weather, ad continuum until the new neighbours sold up. Note: these were people of their generation. I’d rather not overstate the threat of small-talk, because you may take this as satire, which it absolutely isn’t, but small-talk is the number one cause of schism in our great sunburnt quilt of a nation.
Don’t look at me like I’m some personal space invading wackjob who spills guts and vents spleen to people who don’t care. Far from it; I dislike people. But I dislike wasting people’s time more, and science has my back, because we talk about real topics.
According to a UK study by social anthropologist (who I’d like to converse with) Kate Fox, more than nine in ten people(!), talked about the weather in the last six hours, with a further 38% admitting that they’ve conversed about it in the last hour. Unless these people are weatherpeople (and in that case, keep it in the office), there’s a giant front of “dafuq” blowing in from a southerly direction.
The truth behind it, again, according to science, is that we as a species seek the lowest common denominator. We, for the most part, take no chances in conversation with strangers, allowing the opportunity to learn from our fellow man, to pass us by – to pursue something of no value. I get that, who wants to be seen as that social weirdo talking to you about deep shit?
However, compare the two, and a bitter obvious choice is to be made. Is small-talk really the preferable option? With the country in the way it currently sits, a further explanation from your fellow citizens could only be a plus.
So, to close on a warped parternal truism: If you don’t have anything deep to say, don’t say anything at all.